Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Me, Too

Perhaps my favorite addition to my Christmas decor this year is the tin nativity I picked up during our Mexican mission trip this summer. I love it for so many reasons.

For one thing, it lives in its own little box, so there's no wrapping of individual lambs for storage and trying to figure out where the Baby Jesus may have disappeared to. It's easy to set up--just open, pop up the figures, and (as we said in junior high orchestra) viola.

Also, Joseph seems to be feeling the pressure of step-fathering the Divine because his forehead has receded thiiiiiis close to ear level. That doesn't bother me at all--I appreciate men who don't spend all their energy maintaining hairlines.

But my favorite part of this nativity lives in the menagerie that fills the foreground. Do you see what I see?

Yes! It's an elephant! And not just any elephant, this elephant practically has "Property of Barnum and Bailey" stamped on its trunk. See the circus trappings, the I've-got-my-foot-on-a-giant-beach-ball posture?

Please don't tell me that elephants were common forms of transportation for Wise Men From the East, or that all the shepherds had elephants back in those days. I don't want to be confused by facts.

What I want to believe is that this elephant recognized what was happening, and thought "Oh, this is so much better than the circus I live in. I have to go meet this Baby."

Because in my heart, that's what I believe, too.

Monday, December 21, 2015


The holiday season is a time to remember and honor loved ones in our lives, as we sit around and sip our wassail and complain about contemporary Christmas music. (What's wrong with the old carols? Answer me that.) This year I have a transition in my life that made me stop and dab at my watering eyes for a moment as I reached for another cup of wassail.

I have a new phone.

While I love my new phone (so shiny! so fast! so HUGE!) I need to pause and pay tribute to the phone it replaced, my good ol' iPhone 4. I loved that phone, which in 2010 I was sure was going to transform me into a veritable paragon of efficiency. It would organize my calendar and I would no longer double-book my work and personal schedules! It would keep all my contacts in the same place and I would no longer have to call Husband to get an address for one of the Boys! It would be such a fine camera that I would no longer have to carry around my trusty point-and-shoot so that I could document my food!

And for six years, it sort of did all of those things. I mean, it wasn't a miracle machine and sadly, double-booking seems to be my super power so it did not prevent this. But it was reliable, sync-ed with my iPad and work addresses, and was right there when I needed to shoot a picture (lunch, anyone?) so I was happy.

But then my trusty iPhone 4 looked around at all the new generations of phones, several of which had come and gone while I continued to use it, and it just pretty much gave up. Update to the latest operating system? Too complicated.  Sync with my Fitbit? Nope, can't do that either. How about playing some music? Sorry, but even that was beyond this phone's capabilities because all those sandwich pictures crowded off the music. 

So it was time to trade in the old model for a new one, and I do love the new version now that I'm getting used to bending my stubby thumbs around its enormous case. It's fast and shiny and has enough storage space that I can listen to music while I schedule a meeting with my boss at the exact same time I already have an appointment to have my teeth cleaned.

We made a lot of memories together, though, this old phone and I. It was the phone I was using when Boy#4 had his bike wreck two states away, and Boy#1 sent me text updates from the emergency room followed by photos of my wrecked baby's face. Shudder. It's the one that carried me though the whole transition to empty nesting, and kept in touch with my sons to reassure me life was fine--great, even--when the nest was full and would continue to be fine--great, even--when they weren't living at home.

Good-bye, old phone. I will miss you.

Hmmm. I believe this explains why I should never get a pet.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Christmas A Couple of Decades Ago

I'm at the point of Christmas preparations that leaves me with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, along with visions of of still-unwritten Christmas letters, visions of the un-assembled Christmas presents to be distributed at the office party tomorrow, and visions of eight gallons of peppernuts still to bake.

I'm taking my mind off of those visions with this view of a Christmas that must have been ca. 1994. I carbon-date that by using the method of thinking "Hmmm...it looks like the Boys are maybe 3, 5, 7 and 9?" We are at my parents' house and Boy#4 (who looks to be three years old) is opening his gift from Grandma and Grandpa.

I am struck by several things: Boy#1's excitement, and his spiffy Santa sweatshirt. Boys#2 and #3 and their haircuts, which we paid actual U.S. dollars to have happen. Husband's head, which is in view between Two and Three, and has significantly more hair than it does today. My sweater, which as of this moment I am officially retiring from Snow Day Sweater status because holy cow, here is proof that it is at least 20 years old. Also, the fact that I ever thought white tights were a good idea.

And I am struck, again, by how much I miss my mom. At this point she was just a little older than the age I am now, and still beautiful and laughing and energetic and the smartest person I knew. She wouldn't be any of these things by now, but what a lovely memory to have today.

It's a Christmas memory to calm the stress and remind me how very, very blessed I am.

Happy Thursday, everyone.

Monday, December 14, 2015

I Do Not Like It. I Love It.

My emotions about decorating for Christmas are decidedly mixed.

I mean, I do enjoy having the tree up. But do I actually enjoy the decorating process? I do not.

I do not like plugging in the lights to find out that even though a permanent tree may never wear out, being made of plastic as it is, the lights do fail after a few years. And at that point, even with my magic LightKeeper Pro in hand, I will curse this plastic monstrosity because it WILL NOT LIGHT.

I do not like that even though Husband and I wrestled a gabillion boxes of decorations down from the attic and I only decorate one room, the angel I wanted to put in this spot right here apparently remained up there so I'll need to make another trip up and down before I'm finished.

I do not like trying to remember how this whirlygig fits together but that doesn't matter because the candles that create the updraft that makes it spin have melted during their summer under the roof in the attic.

But then I start to put the actual ornaments onto the tree. We have made a habit of buying an ornament during our vacations, and the Boys have continued that tradition by marking special events with ornaments. The queen shown above is a reminder of the summer Boy#1 spent studying in London, with the contemporary update of a string of lights slap-dashedly thrown across her front because I was DONE with figuring out where the lights were malfunctioning.

Or this chartreuse velvet bird? I picked it out as I wandered around a Christmas shop with Boy#1 and Lovely Girl on her very first visit to Small Town. Behind the bird is a purple-clad St. Nick, a gift from Boy#3 showing pride in the university he and I graduated from.

Out of frame are ornaments that were in a basket Husband and I received as a wedding gift from his parents' best friends, and ornaments the Boys made in their wonderful magnet school. A painted oxcart represents the biggest vacation we ever took and a chili pepper Santa reminds me of the restorative trip to Santa Fe the year we played upset-the-fruit-basket with our employment situations.

I love these reminders of milestones and good times.

I love that Husband has deciphered the mysteries of the automatic timer and now I come home from work in the dark to see the Christmas-y glow shining from the front windows. Even if it's 72 degrees (which it was, last week, and how do you people in Florida get any Christmas spirit whatsoever?) it seems like the loveliest moment of winter.

Each morning when I get up the glow of the tree lights my way down the stairs, and in those moments I forget that I ever did not like this decorating process.

Like childbirth and writing, for a Christmas tree the means are forgotten in view of the end.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

He Does Not Speak for Me

I had no intention of writing this post. This is not a political blog; my usual hope is that the deepest thought it provokes is "Yeah, I've worn shoes from two different pairs to work, too."

But Donald Trump's comments a few days ago about keeping all Muslims out of America are so appalling, so contrary to everything I believe as an American and a Christian and a human being, that I need to stand up and be counted. 

Donald Trump does not speak for me as an American.

I think about the episodes in our nation's history that have been the most shameful. Every one that I can name is related to treating a class of persons differently because they could be easily grouped by race or religion: the Japanese interned in World War II; the black Americans treated with easy cruelty before the 1960s; the Native Americans herded onto reservations. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that we are never proud of these actions in retrospect. Excluding Muslims from America because they are Muslims would be another chapter in this book of shame.

Donald Trump does not speak for me as a Christian. 

I have never been able to find any evidence that Jesus distanced himself from persons of any religion, or that he encouraged hate of any person because of beliefs. Instead, His instructions--His most important commandment--was that persons who follow Him should love God, love one another (other Christians), and love their neighbors (everyone else). Can you imagine how small the Christian kingdom would have been if Christ's great commandment had been "Yeah, probably better not have contact with anyone who's different from you, because who knows? It might be dangerous." 

Donald Trump does not speak for me as a human being. 

I am pained he is the leading presidential candidate for the political party in which I have been registered all of my voting years. This self-aggrandizing blowhard, whose horrible hair only distracts us from the dangerous ideas he spouts? From the pure hate he throws around so casually? 

As a human being and as an American and as a Christian I will continue to believe that love is always better than hate, that inclusion is always better than isolation, and that Christ would be appalled that the 83% of Americans who claim His name are letting the world think Donald Trump speaks for them. 

He does not speak for me.

Monday, December 7, 2015

We Have a Winner!

Finally! We have a winner in the Milestone Monday giveaway.

Now you may be saying to yourself, "My goodness, Self, MomQueenBee certainly makes everything more complicated than it needs to be, doesn't she? How hard is it to pick a winner of a contest that's been going on for (Self counts on fingers) three weeks now? Isn't it just a matter of counting the entries, then using a random number generator to come up with the winning number?"

Well. I always say if a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing in the most convoluted, time-consuming manner possible, ergo no random number generator for me. No, I copied out all of the names of the entrants, then I cut them apart with an Exacto knife using a Hickory Farms catalog as a cutting base, then I put all of the names into the Cauldron of Chance. From the Cauldron of Chance the world's most delightful videographer drew the winning name.

With a flourish!

(Okay, so that wasn't a flourish, it was must my inability to take a good picture even with my fancy new phone. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.)

And the winner is....

My friend Kim W.! I've hidden her last name with a seasonally appropriate sticker, but the delightful videographer can attest that we know what that name is.

So, Kim W., in a few short days weeks you will be wearing the variegated orange neck thingy I was knitting during our charmed vacation, assuming I can get the thingy finished in a few short days weeks. I guarantee it will be done in time for Christmas re-gifting.

Congratulations to our winner, thanks to our Cauldron of Chance chooser, and thank you to all who played along. Let's do this again some time!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday Orts and a Blurb

The Thanksgiving leftovers are pretty much gone (and food scientists everywhere say it's about time and that they hope I enjoy the salmonella I was inviting into my digestive system when I scarfed down that final spoonful of cranberry sauce last night) so we're back to a regular feature--orts and a blurb!

You might have noticed that in the gushing delight with which I described the Best Day of the Year in this space, I did not mention the weather. That's because the weather--unlike the pie, which was perfect--was terrible. Horrible. Really awful.

It poured all day, the kind of rain that makes you realize that maybe Seattle isn't where you want to live after all because rain is all sorts of wonderful if you can stay inside and read a good book but all sorts of hassle if you're trying to transport a full two-turkey dinner for 33 people across the street to where you will be eating that meal. And if that street is at the bottom of a hill and the intersection of two drainage streets, as the House on the Corner is, you will pretty much be stomping through the Erie Canal with that bowl of mashed potatoes.

Fortunately, there were lots of good-natured galoots who schlepped and carried and were pretty much soaked for the rest of the day. Believe it or not, they did not complain ONE WORD about the conditions.

I love my galoots.

The next day everything was ice-covered and I regretted my lack of photographic skills because the sweetgum tree off the deck was spectacularly beautiful but I couldn't document the combination of bright green, red, and yellow leaves encased in ice. I also regretted my lack of shoes as I took took the picture above because cold feet are not my favorite, even in the interest of art.

The BDotY was so wonderful that I completely forgot to gather a group that would draw out a winner in our 1,000th post drawing. So, bonus! You can still comment on that post or on my Facebook page before Sunday at noon and I'll add you to the drawing. (Remember, your choices are KNIT or NAP.)


And for the blurb: After Thanksgiving it is my practice to not cook anything for the remainder of the week. It's a sacrifice I make. At least that's what I tell Husband when he looks down at his plate of re-heated turkey and says "So you're not cooking again?" and I have to remind him that I cooked for three straight days and that averages out to daily cooking for about a month. 

In the spare time that results from not cooking on Friday or Saturday, I read and read. Then I read a little more and then I catch up on my reading. 

I happened to choose two books set in World War II France for my post-eating eye binge, and I am still mesmerized by All The Light We Cannot See. There is a reason this won a ton of awards, as did The Nightingale, which I also read last week. 

I highly recommend both books, and if you read them please let me know so we can commiserate about how glad we are that the Nazis did not win. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

We Do What's Expected

The only thing that makes a Thanksgiving dinner for 33 people run smoothly, or really, run at all, is that after this many years all of us know our roles.

My dad, for example, is in charge of ironing the tablecloths. He and M.A. always show up early enough that I can pull out the ironing board and the wrinkly used-once-a-year plaid cloths, then he irons while I take my shower and change out of my cooking-spattered chenille robe and into a more respectable splatter-palette outfit.

Of course, I'm splattered most of the day because I have been busy completing my role:

My role is to keep the dairy farmers in business and I take this job quite seriously. You would not even believe how many pounds of butter and cream cheese I use to prepare one meal. What you see was all used to whip up the Pioneer Woman's mashed potatoes. No, I am not kidding, and if I were being totally honest I'd also include the whipping cream and half-and-half in this photo. On the other hand, they were delicious even though my hand got tired of mashing early so they were incredibly lumpy. Lumpotatoes, but yumpotatoes. 

But the role all of us most enjoy filling was taken this year by Miss S, who had her first birthday a few months ago. Remember her from last year? When she wasn't at all sure she should be sitting with the crazy lady? 

Last year.
This year she was the official pie sampler. 

She's sitting on her grandma's lap (is my Much Younger Sister the most beautiful grandmother you've ever seen?) and clearly Miss S finds the pumpkin pie satisfactory. 

Take a note, Miss S. It wasn't too many years ago that all those galoots behind you had the pie-tasting job, and now look at them. They're too old and sophisticated to dig in with this kind of gusto, and they probably filled up on turkey which you were wise enough not to do, plus we might look askance if they started eating their pie with their hands.  

Enjoy that role while it's still cute or you might end up helping Grandpa B with the tablecloths. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Miracle of Compounding

Husband, by training and by natural bent, is a numbers guy. He married someone who is, by lack of training and general distaste for the subject, not a numbers gal. As a result he has tried to explain the miracle of compounding to me multiple times and I still don't understand its complexities, except to say that it's a miracle and I'm not supposed to understand it. 

But the group picture from Thanksgiving at the House on the Corner begins to make sense to me when I think of it in terms of compound interest.

We began hosting Thanksgiving for my side of the family at least a quarter of a century ago. At that point most of my siblings and my parents lived on one edge of Kansas and the House on the Corner was located on the other edge. That meant we were the ones who drove--to the holiday meals, the family camp-outs, the weekend get-togethers. And while it was always totally worth the effort, I suggested that for one day a year everyone else make the drive and I would make the turkey.

Thus was born the Best Day of the Year. Everyone would pack up the spouses and babies and I would make my famous cranberry sauce while they were on the road. It was wonderful.

Over the years the group grew both in size and in number. Want to know how many were at the original gathering?

With the exception of my mom (who we will miss forever and always) and a brother who called in from Australia, only those with stickers. My dad, siblings, three spouses (one of whom was taking this picture), and three grandchildren.

This year we had 33 people eating off plates. Ages ranged from six months to 90  years, a miracle of compounding.

I still can't explain it, but I'm beginning to see why economists are so enthusiastic about this principle: It's means there are kids old enough to do dishes, and more kids young enough to be sweet and cuddly and wildly appreciative of pie.

It's still the Best Day of the Year, and it's a miracle I'm not going to question.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Time After Time

Time after time you hear me say that I'm so lucky to be loving you...

I had never heard the song Boy#1 and Lovely Girl chose for their first dance when they were married. It was an old one, I knew that much, and the old love songs are the best, but I had never heard it.

"Time After Time" made me cry.

So lucky to be the one you run to see in the evening when the day is through...

A young groom, a young bride? They don't know what kind of agreement they're making on that wedding day. They don't know how they will react when the ceremony has been packed away with the toasting glasses and the guests have moved back to their own lives.

At least Husband and I didn't know on Nov. 19, 1983.

I only know what I know, the passing years will show you've kept my love so young, so new...

We didn't know that neither one of our audacious career dreams would come true--I wouldn't become Erma Bombeck, he wouldn't be governor of the state (yet). We didn't know we wouldn't ever live in a fancy house on an acreage with lots of windows for watching the wildlife. We didn't even know we would never again buy a brand-new car.

But we also didn't know we would have four sons who would be the joy and fulfillment of our lives. We didn't know we would survive each other's irritating habits (my hoarding tendencies, for example) and the craziness that is the melding of two independent personalities, two strong wills, two loving families.

We didn't know how much we would laugh.

And time after time you'll hear me say that I'm so lucky to be loving you.

Happy anniversary, Husband. I'm so lucky to be loving you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

So Lucky

One of my friends noticed it was my birthday.

In case you're wondering how to make sure everybody makes a big deal of your birthday, I have a pretty much foolproof method:

Tell the internet.

Yes, it turns out that if you blog about turning another year older, it's like saying "So, what do you think of my new dress?" People feel obligated to tell you nice things, and oh my, did y'all ever make my day.

Husband and the Boys made sure I was cherished and appreciated, and that was the foundation for everything else that happened. But the surprise of the day was how pleased I was by people who took time to send Facebook greetings.

This made up for the times I have rolled my eyes, silently or not-so-silently calling Facebook an idiot--it was the best thing ever on Monday. I heard from friends, so many friends, with whom I'm not in contact on a regular basis, and it reminded me how very rich my life has been. I had messages from friends who knew me before I could talk, and friends I've only known for a few months. Friends I met in grade school and in high school and in college and in the Peace Corps and through work and through church and through playing the piano and through my women's groups. There were greetings in Spanish and in English and I ran out of ways to say "Muchisimas gracias!"

By halfway through the day I was beginning to sniffle, and except for the ear-to-ear grin that simply would not get off my face, I would have been in full-out wails of nostalgia and thankfulness.

There are some things that are not so wonderful about being older. I'm not crazy about the memory and hearing, both of which are growing distinctly fuzzier. I regret the realization that there are places I'll never visit when I had intended to see the whole world, and that I'll never live in the country again.

But hearing from all those people, seeing their faces in my mind, being reminded of the moments we have shared and how our lives have intersected? I've been so lucky.

Thanks for the reminder.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Milestone Monday (With a Giveaway!)

It is a momentous Monday! A magnificent Monday! One might even say a monumental Monday!


Yes, friends, this is a big day for several reasons. First of all, it is my birthday, and while I loved birthdays more when they seemed to only come around once in a while instead of every blessed week, I still love birthdays. They are the one day each year when anything is allowed.

Chocolate for breakfast? Why not? Come in to work a few minutes late? Sure. Watch the reunion show of Project Runway even though you know brain cells are being killed every time Blake opens his mouth? Go for it.

Or, in my case, spend the first hour of your work day learning how to use the selfie stick Boy#2 sent you for your birthday because apparently he thinks his mother is a 16-year-old Asian tourist? Treat yo-self!  And look! It's me from across the room, in all my squinched-left-eye, scrunched-up-jacket-shoulders-ed glory! Also look at my new office chairs. Pretty, no?

But my birthday is only the first of the milestones we are celebrating today: Last week I hit "publish" on post number 1,000 of Empty Nest Feathers.

Holy moly. This is a milestone that may never come again, unlike birthdays, which as I've mentioned, come every three days or so. I introduced my Nest to the interwebs on June 29, 2010, and since then have just about used up all the words in blathering on about my world. Alas, it is possible I might not hit 2,000 posts because all those birthdays have added up to an insatiable desire to nap rather than post, but I will persist.

Nonetheless, this milestone deserves a giveaway, and since all I do is nap and knit, the grand winner will get a choice of those loves of my life.

If you choose KNIT, you will receive the project I was working on during our charmed vacation in Michigan:

Yes. This blob of stitches, which I have not yet finished but intend to do so soon. The pattern says it is a shawl, this shawl to be precise:

However, I am skeptical that it will be quite this large when I finish. It will be more of a pretty neck thingy. The yarn is spectacularly beautiful and my fuzzy photography does it no justice--it's alpaca and as soft as a baby's cheek, variegated in soft pink and orange (the yarn, not the baby's cheek) and it is not at all as garish as it sounds. It's yummy, is what I mean, and you will receive the scarf/shawl if you are the lucky winner of KNIT!

If you choose NAP, I will give you permission to take a nap. There. Done. And if anyone questions why you are sleeping in the middle of the day, you can tell them you are a Milestone Monday Giveaway winner, and the prize must not be wasted.

Just comment here or on my Facebook page before noon on the Best Day of the Year (Thanksgiving), and I will have a guest draw-er draw a lucky winner, after which I will take a picture of that lucky winner's name.

From across the room with a selfie stick.

Thank you for sharing my milestone moments!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Food, Glorious Vacation Food

Here is what to eat when you are on the perfect vacation in Michigan:


That was the motto Husband and I followed, and it worked well for us, at least until we stepped on the scales after we got home but that was not when we were eating everything.

We started off acting like the restrained senior citizens we are, splitting a sandwich at Schlotzky's as we drove between Chicago and Paradise.

But by the time we reached the first evening stop it was all caloric caution to the winds. We were going to experience every kind of food that isn't available in Small Town, which is to say everything except Mexican food and fast food. So we ate this:

Indian food that came thiiiiis close to setting off the fire alarm! And this:

Really, really good fish! I counted it as restraint that I only got the basket and not the all-you-can-eat, because all the other patrons at Buddy's Bar and Bowling Alley (not kidding) were having the all-you-can-eat. I felt quite virtuous. So I ate this:

Spinach and feta spanikopita in the airport, because at our own airport I normally limit myself to coffee and the apple I brought from home and this was yummmmmy. And perhaps best of all, we ate...

Pie! Oh, my gosh. This was not just any pie. This was Sweetie-licious pie baked by the national champion pie-baker for multiple years running. Don't believe me? Here's proof:

Husband was able to close his eyes and ignore the sadly out-of-order championship certificates, because we had driven 30 miles to get there with my horrible navigational skills getting us lost not once but twice, and because PIE. We actually forced ourselves to buy two of the pint-sized desserts and they were not only delicious when we dug in that night, they were delicious the second and third nights as well.

But just to reassure you that we did not eat everything, I bring to you evidence of the night we ate at Jen's Five-Star Pizza.

It was two-for-one night but we did not realize this until after we had ordered this pizza (black olives on my side) so we took the leftovers from this one and an entire second pizza back up to the Loft refrigerator, where the second pizza stayed until we the morning we checked out, at which time Husband took it away and let me know it was happy at its new home on the farm, making friends with all the other pizzas.

So to sum up: The vacation food was glorious. We ate pie and enjoyed life, we showed no restraint at all, and now we are re-committing to salads.

How soon is Thanksgiving?

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Posh Life

I have written here so often about my love for the House on the Corner and what it is (homey, rambling, quirky, convenient, ours) that I have not really detailed what it is not (fashionable, edgy, stylish, compact, up-to-date).

That's why Husband and I really felt as if we were on vacation when we checked into The Loft: It was all of those latter adjectives.

Oh, people. If you are within the sound of my voice, you must reserve a few days at The Loft in Lake Odessa, Mich. Unless you are a snotty and overpaid hipster from Washington, D.C., this is as close as you will ever be to living in an HGTV location, and you will be able to accomplish this without seeing the rodent infestations that the HGTV "befores" always seem to have.

The Loft is (surprise!) a loft apartment located above the consignment shop in downtown Lake Odessa. Before you turn up your nose at the noise and traffic associated with a downtown, be aware that Lake Odessa is home to 2,018 souls and apparently all of them are asleep by mid-evening because we did not hear a peep.

Our host, Bill, bought this run-down building several years ago and remodeled both the consignment shop and the loft above it. I had always assumed a loft apartment would be big and drafty and unhospitable but Bill is a genius.

See that chair above, with the knitting plonked on the arm and Parenthood streaming on Netflix? That was my chair. See this sofa, with the comfy pillows and historic pictures behind it? That was Husband's sofa.

See this fireplace, which springs into flame with the touch of a button and was the perfect accompaniment to rain drumming on the windows? And the flat-screen TV above the fireplace where a certain team of destiny was on its way to winning the World Series?

That was what we saw when we looked up from our knitting and reading. It was heavenly.

Here's the full tour:

Living room. With an oversized clock that made my heart flutter. If you turn 180 degrees, you will be looking at the...

...kitchen and dining room. On the other side of the mirrored panel beyond the round table are two comfy Murphy beds, that are opposite...

...another sitting area, in case you have completely lost your mind and don't want to sit in front of the fire and watch the Royals.

I didn't take pictures of the bathroom, which is fantastically fantastic, because my photographic skills blah-blah-blah. Be assured it is in keeping with the spectacularity of the rest of the loft. Just carry over the 11-foot ceilings, white-washed brick, custom-made cabinetry, and the mood lighting. Oh, plus spa-quality toiletries that made me wash my hair 14 times in the four days we were there

There is only one minor downside to The Loft, and that is this:

Twenty-six steps from sidewalk to the door of the loft and no Sherpa to help with the ascent. But Bill had left chocolate-covered strawberries in the kitchen for us, and we would have had to share them with the Sherpa, so not such a bad deal.

The Loft was not the House on the Corner. It was not ours, and we are not the type of folk who would have such stylish digs, but for a few days, it was fun to pretend that it was and that we were.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Things We Didn't Buy

Going on vacation in a faraway state and traveling there by train and back by plane make a lot of economic sense. Husband and I love, love, love to browse through antique stores but when you are limited to the number of pounds you are able to schlep around in an airport or lug onto a sleeper car, you think twice about some purchases that otherwise would make perfect sense.

Take the top photo in today's post, for example. People, it is a JEWELED FEZ. I know! Christmas is coming and I have possibly as many as four but at the very least one son (Hi, Boy#2!) who would think himself the stylin'est of stylin' dudes wearing a jeweled fez. What? Your son wouldn't be caught dead in a jeweled fez? I bet your son(s) also did not win a state scholars bowl championship wearing a chicken nuggets box on his(their) head(s) for good luck.

We did not buy the jeweled fez.

Or look at this!

It's an antique Queen Bee slot machine! And can you believe that it was 75% off? I know! But it did not have any keys, and might have been difficult to cram into my carry-on, so we walked away from it. 

One item we almost did not walk away from was this:

Oh, my. This was rough. Just look at that face. 

Husband has in his hands an industrial siren. It is a siren that can be mounted at the top of a water tower to warn dozens of square miles of impending tornadoes or zombie apocalypse. And they were SELLING IT for only TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS! He was beside himself with excitement. 

I, personally, did not think we had much use for such an item so I texted the Boys. 

And a few minutes later:

Husband even convinced the store owner it would be a good idea to let him plug in the siren to make sure it worked. I did take a short video of this good idea, but did not capture the looks on the faces of the various antique store patrons whom I'm fairly certain had to re-start their pacemakers when the siren blast happened. 

We also did not buy this set of cereal bowls. 

That is because we already have this set of bowls at home, and we still use them. When did I get old enough that items I bought new are now antiques?

Finally, we did not buy either of these:

I again went to our brilliant offspring for advice on this potential purchase. 

"I'm thinking of buying one of these--which should I get?" I messaged the Boys. Boy #1 was the first (and only) to respond.

"The underwear one." 

I believe that Boy may have a future in politics.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

We're On a Train!

He's on a train
Our Vacation of Charm, as I mentioned yesterday, had everything we love about travel, including our favorite transportation methods--planes, trains, and automobiles.

We started out on the Silver Chief (which runs between Los Angeles and Chicago via New Mexico), which was scheduled to pull out of the station at 3 a.m. Would it surprise you to learn this is my my least favorite hour of the day to be awake? It's true.

However, there had been a freight train derailment in Gallup, New Mexico, which led to all sorts of scrambling by the Amtrak folks and involved turning trains around and busing passengers around the derailment and I don't know what all except that it meant that at 3 a.m. Husband and I were blissfully asleep at home and we didn't All Aboooooooard! until 10:30 a.m. It also saved Husband from the top bunk in our sleeper compartment, which he described after the last trip we took as closely resembling an MRI without sedation.

So we were quite late and that was wonderful! It meant that we got to see the best parts of our route, including Kansas, in the daylight. It was spectacularly beautiful, and all you doubters who think that Kansas is flat or boring or colorless have never seen my state in the fall, from a train track. Being on a train is like slipping through the margins of the world, traveling on the thin lines drawn between fields and behind storefronts, while a giant hand gently rocks you in a cradle. (And that is exactly the kind of florid prose a train provokes in me, which leads me to think maybe Amtrak knew what it was doing when it did not select me for its writers' residency program.)

Unfortunately, my love of the train was not being shared by everyone with whom we were sharing the rails. Our schedule, which was seven hours behind when boarded, slipped even more. Husband and I had no connections to make, no schedules depending on our timely arrival, so you couldn't have wiped the smile off my face with Magic Eraser. The other folks on the train? Not so much. Apparently a good way to provoke the cranking up of the crankiness for an entire trainful of passengers is to force the train that is already running seven hours late to pull off a siding for 45 minutes to let another train go by.


And then they served supper, which clearly was dumped out of cans the chef found in the back of the pantry. That's not totally Amtrak's fault, since they had thought all of us were going to be disembarking by mid-afternoon and by 7 p.m. the crew would be sitting around eating the last of the leftover cheesecake from lunch. Instead, the chef was pouring what appeared to be Dinty Moore Beef Stew over...well, it wasn't immediately apparent what it was poured over.

"Is this rice or mashed potatoes?" I asked Husband, poking the lumpy white mound with my fork. People, I have the most nondiscriminating palate in the world but that was a plateful of ick. (It was rice, but rice cooked until individual grains were indistinguishable. So wallpaper paste?)

So, to sum up, it was a day that started late, found us surrounded by grumpy passengers, ending with our evening meal being one Our Dog Pepper would have refused and her preferred cuisine included dirty Kleenexes. And still, when we finally pulled into Chicago's Union Station at 11:30 p.m., I wasn't hating my life. I was trying to figure out the next time I could get back on a train.

A pretty good start to a vacation.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Charmed, I'm Sure

Waiting for Amtrak
This morning I was trying to describe last week's vacation to a friend.

"You know how when you're on vacation, there are times when two different things can happen and they're both fine, but one of them is really fine? On this vacation, every single time there was a fine thing and a really fine thing, the really fine thing happened."

She knew exactly what I meant.

"It sounds like your entire week was charmed."

And it was.

Husband and I used the excuse of a tax seminar in Michigan to spend 10 days in that state, a planes/trains/automobile trip that had all of our favorite things: Fall. Food. Antiques. Fabulous living quarters. Movie marathons. Knitting. Sleep.

Each other.

I didn't even include the World Series in that list of favorite things because we didn't know it was our favorite until it actually happened. It has been added to the list, and people who were in Chicago hotel rooms adjacent to ours Sunday night, we apologize. You should be thankful you couldn't see as well as hear us, because the victory dancing I was doing was not charming.

I'm sorry I didn't even check in last week, but oh, people. There's so, so much this week to tell and show you (pictures of food! pretty leaves! a jeweled fez! PIE!).

We're back from vacation, and Michigan? You've charmed us.

Friday, October 23, 2015

A New Rug

After living in the House on the Corner for almost three decades Husband and I are finally getting somewhat serious about improving the sad and sorry state of our lawn.

That sad-sorry-state isn't entirely my fault (I'm reject all responsibility for the gully-washers that semi-regularly take out the landscaping between the sidewalks and the street), but I must reluctantly claim ownership for at least part of the mangy-looking main lawn. We're Bermuda grass folks and my unwillingness to let Husband trim trees means the increasing canopy size has left our sun-loving Bermuda fighting a losing battle against the shade. I have planted and replanted grass seed in those spots. I have fertilized and plucked out any weeds. I have talked to it lovingly, and coaxed it to please, please, please grow some ground cover.

And still there has been nothing but hard, dry, dead dirt in those ever-enlarging spots.

You may ask why we don't just change the grass type to fescue, or some similar shade-loving variety, and I can answer that question with three letters: H2O. If we planted all fescue, we would have to water the lawn, and if we watered the lawn we could no longer justify not having water-savers in our showerheads, and if we watered the lawn AND took nice showery showers, the Midwestern guilt would be too much for us.

Or that was our stance until this week when the fabulous landscaping guy who is seeing what can be done about the washed-out strip between the sidewalks and street mentioned that he could fix those bare spots in the main lawn inexpensively and quickly. We wrote out a check before he could change his mind, and Tuesday I came home to the sight pictured above.

It's a lawn toupee.

See the resemblance?

Now it all makes sense. Donald Trump just needs more sunlight.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Overwhelming Healthiness

Photo from the BB website
I did not take the picture in today's post, but you probably already figured that out. (Have I mentioned that the only grade of C I received in my entire life was in Photography I?) It was taken by Ronda from Montana, and was on the Bountiful Basket Facebook page as the winner of last year's photo contest. 

Thank you for letting me borrow your picture, Ronda, because I have had the equivalent of all this lovely produce in my house this week and it has been yum-mazing. (I just made up that word. You are welcome.) Husband and I have been eating with such focused and overwhelming healthiness I wouldn't be surprised to be told we are shooting out invisible sparkles of wholesomeness. 

Potato-Leek Soup! Which actually turned into Grey Squash-Leek Soup because the BB contained five grey squash and while I wasn't watching them the potatoes I had in the house had turned into vile-smelling liquid that burst into bloom when I picked up the sack (retch) so I substituted the grey squash for the potatoes. It was yummy, yummy.

Sauteed Kale! And while I am going to admit that kale is not my favorite of the leafy greens and in fact ranks somewhere just above those potatoes, I ATE IT and I am healthier for it. 

Watercress! Pomegranates! BLTs made from the full grocery sack of tomatoes! Pears! Celery, because holy cow, does Bountiful Baskets like celery. 

The only thing we have not yet sampled are the bananas. This is because at the House on the Corner we have a very specific ripeness point for bananas, and until that point is reached we sit around like this, just staring at the bunch of slighty-greenish fruit:

And then they're suddenly perfectly light yellow and we do this!

Five minutes later, that perfectly light yellow point is past and I sweep all of the remaining bananas into the compost bucket because I know from long experience that no one in my household will touch a banana that has even one tiny brown spot on the peel. (Except me, and I don't really need to eat a full bunch of bananas.)

The point of all this then, is to say that we are enjoying our fresh fruits and vegetables. And to warn you to not stand too close when you're around Husband or me this week. Being hit by invisible wholesomeness sparkles just might hurt.